Speak For Yourself is a platform for artists and musicians to discuss what inspires and influences their work. Here, artist Tai Shani talks about some of the central themes that can be seen in her work. You can read more about Shani in the current print issue of Art & Music magazine, or, if you’re quick, snap up tickets to her new Artprojx performance, 'W.O.W. Noumenon Dilation: Reduced to 3,' on Saturday 13th March at the Rio Cinema in Dalston. www.artprojx.com
Most of my work takes place in a fantastical, dreamtime America. Different archetypes and eras collide, over-saturated with evocative and familiar references drawn from the massive folklore that is the U.S. of A.
I love the denseness of the fantastical America, its vast epic narratives, the way it sways so decisively between dark and light, and yet these two things seem so interchangeable in that impossible place. With it’s highways and heroes and anti-heroes and heroes again that lead you to or save you from all the beauty and horror in this world. I love thinking about it’s forceful, monolithic fictions that intermingle with history, become unbound, seep back into the cinematic and then silently blink behind every particle of our watched, recorded and reproduced world.
I often use characters such as Bobby Beausoleil and Susan Adkins from the Manson family, Anton Lavey and Kitty Genovese in my work. They appear as fascination vessels, flesh tone replay buttons that possess mesmeric narratives and aesthetics. Their histories become mythologized in my performances and essentially they become kinds of specific archetypes too, retaining very little fact and a lot of fiction.
However, it is not just characters that possess these qualities but certain events, cultural phenomena and eras. Revolutionary groups that explode into action and visibility such as ‘The Weathermen’, ‘The Manson Family’ and the ‘Baader Meinhof’ group also contain the promise to crystallise and employ the mysterious powers of the forever-occurring apocalypse. I’m interested in their ability to perform as gateways into expanded fictional spaces not their historical accuracies.
Although pondering and researching the possibilities of time travel is a very inspirational activity I am more enamoured with this notion as a narrative device. Public and personal trauma act like time loops that remain fixed on our internal fabric, suspended pockets that can be revisited again and again. A book or a film that contains it’s own time too remains suspended until the spotlight of spectator illuminates it and sequentialises it. What happens to these fictions when they are not being observed? Maybe it is like time itself, the past, present and future, all existing at once, spot lit and made linear by ones singular, conscious observation.
Jean Cocteau’s Orphee (1949)
Cocteau reworks and modernizes the beautiful myth of Orpheus who travels to the pits of hell to bring back his love Eurydice. He is allowed to take her with him on the condition that he leads her and does not look back at her until they have both reached the upper world, just as he sees daylight he turns around to look at her and she disappears forever.
Poem messages broadcast from the unknown on a radio transmitter in ‘Death’s’ car, a world beyond the mirror and the afterlife as a post-war Parisian nightscape. The moment where Orphee puts his hand through the liquid silver mirror, destroying the image of himself irrevocably and enters the ‘Zone’ remains to me the most articulate and poetic delineation of the wonder of the cinematic organ.
Godard also discreetly references this film in the spinning coffee/galaxy scene in ‘2 or 3 things I know about her’, another astounding film.
Maya Lubinsky’s voice
Maya’s voice is really something special, it has the power to transport you straight into the cinematic belly of America, gently swelling with backseat love and popping with cherry pie, it would comfortably resound in the R’n’R Diner in Twin Peaks or in the Jazz bars of Cassavetes’ Shadows. Maya is the actress that does all the voiceovers for my performances and films, she plays all the characters in them and over time her presence has overflowed from the soundtrack and has become inextricably woven into the fiction of my pieces, often self referentially she will point out the dreamlike quality of her own voice to the listener. In one piece, she slowly pronounces her supposedly favourite words: Milkshake, blueberry and Hollywood, to the listener’s delight. When I write my texts I can actually hear Maya’s voice saying the words in my head, a little like the messages Orphee receives on the radio transmitter.
Photography: Bohdan Cap
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